MLB’s slow-moving off-season is killing popularity

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 3: DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees bats during a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at Steinbrenner Field on March 3, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 3: DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees bats during a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at Steinbrenner Field on March 3, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

The MLB off-season is moving at a sloth-like pace, and it’s destroying baseball’s popularity. 

Trevor Bauer? Unsigned.

D.J. LeMahieu? Unsigned.

J.T. Realmuto?  You guessed it. Unsigned.

It’s mid-December. Stroll into your local supermarket and “All I want for Christmas,” by Mariah Carey billows out of the speakers and fills the air. Christmas is less than 10 days away, and guess how many big-name MLB free agents have signed? One. Charlie Morton signed with the Braves on Nov. 24th. Since that? Nothing.

This is part of a troubling trend for Major League Baseball. It’s also part of an overarching popularity problem glaring MLB in the face.

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Flashback to the 2018 offseason. Stars Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, and J.D. Martinez highlighted the free agent market – yet they floated around free agency almost the entire offseason. Darvish didn’t sign until February 8th, Hosmer didn’t find a home until February 17th, and Martinez couldn’t get a deal until February 26th – just a month before the season started.

Rewind the clock a little further, and you’ll see a completely different trend. Flashback to 2013: The Mariners reeled in that off-season’s biggest fish, Robinson Cano, on December 7th.  Flashback to 2011: the Angels took the baseball world by storm, signing surefire Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols and ace C.J. Wilson on December 8th. Flashback to 2009: the Yankees hoisted that off-season’s most magnificent trophy on December 18th, signing CC Sabathia.

The MLB offseason used to be snappy and exciting. As soon as the season ended, flurries of big trades and big signings kept baseball on the forefront of the sports world. Now? Baseball’s off-season is slower than a tortoise. It’s a waiting game. And it’s killing MLB’s popularity.

Consider something. When was the last time you thought about baseball? Look, I’m a baseball diehard. I eat, sleep, and breathe baseball. So, of course, purists like myself think about baseball around the clock. But take a step back and think about the casual sports fan. The guy you work with who only watches so he has something to talk about around the office. When was the last time that guy thought about baseball?

There’s a lack of news, a lack of excitement, and most importantly a lack of action when it comes to the MLB off-season. There’s nothing to talk about. The biggest news this week is the Cleveland Indians eradicating their name. Big whoop. Hit the snooze button. Once the last pitch of the World Series is thrown, baseball vanishes from the headlines and vanishes from people’s minds. Out of sight, out of mind.

Contrast the MLB to the NBA and the NFL, and it’s no comparison. The NBA does a marvelous job staying in the news. After the NBA finals ended this year, it was simply a matter of weeks before eye-popping trades – and trade rumors – swarmed the headlines. James Harden wants out of Houston. The Thunder shipped Chris Paul to the Suns, and the Rockets swapped aging stars: Russell Westbrook for John Wall. In the NBA, there’s constant drama, which converts to constant conversation.

The NFL is a popularity monster. The biggest event of the NFL offseason – the draft, held in April – demands months of build-up and garners mass amount of hype. On the contrary, Major League Baseball holds its draft in June, which is during the season! How much sense does that make? What if the NFL held its draft in November? Baseball could skyrocket its relevancy by moving the draft from June to January!

The MLB can’t — and probably won’t ever – compete with the NFL. On July 17, in the middle of baseball season, Colin Cowherd leads his show with an NFL storyline. But could you imagine Cowherd leading his show with an MLB headline in December? Never!

The average MLB fan is 57 years old. Coming from a 23-year-old, I can tell you firsthand, no matter what the numbers say, interest in baseball is waning, especially among younger people. People want instant gratification. People like fast-paced action. And that’s why the NFL is king. That’s why the NBA is number two. Baseball doesn’t satisfy the tastebuds of the average 21st century consumer.

And the MLB’s slow-as-molasses off-seasons only exacerbate the issue.  So, here’s the question: why do teams wait so long to sign players? Penny-pinching owners are reluctant to hand out bottomless millions to free agents on the other side of 30. Teams don’t want to pay players for the production of their 20s while receiving the diminished return of their 30s. Big contracts without fruitful returns – such as the Angels $240 million pact with Albert Pujols – have deterred owners from signing baseball’s most exorbitant stars.

On the other hand, as the years tick by, big-time free agents demand more money, and bigger contracts. So, we’re stuck in a stalemate, where the owners don’t want to pay players, and the players demand more money. To the common man, it presents an image of two rapacious financial giants refusing to agree on ridiculous sums of money. Also, this year more than ever, the financial split between players and owners leaves a nasty aftertaste in fans’ mouths.

Clearly, baseball has a big problem to fix. As soon as the season is over, the sport becomes irrelevant. It morphs into an afterthought, while the other major North American sports dominate the headlines whether they’re in season or not.

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Truth be told, I wish I was writing a story about Trevor Bauer signing with the Padres. Instead, baseball’s off-season is at a standstill, like a car stuck on the freeway during rush hour, and fans are left watching time pass by.